An early-season trade reopened Andrew Takacs’ future as a college hockey player and led to the closing of a gap in the New Jersey Titans’ otherwise successful history in the North American Hockey League (NAHL).
Before the September trade, Takacs was seriously thinking about whether it was time to return home to Maryland to seek out a chance to play NCAA Division III hockey or simply begin college without the sport.
By January, Takacs was committed to an NCAA Division I future at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, and had become the goaltending workhorse of his new team along the way. In March, the Titans clinched their first NAHL East Division title, and in late May, with Takacs making 31 saves, New Jersey shut out the Anchorage Wolverines 3-0 in the Robertson Cup Championship Game for their first NAHL title.
The acquisition of Takacs, following a disappointing 1-3 performance in interdivisional play at the annual Blaine Showcase, was one of many steps in the process of becoming a championship team.
For Takacs, it was a move that immediately provided encouragement, based on his impression of the Titans as an opponent as he moved around the NAHL.
“When I was in Maryland three years ago, when I started playing in the NAHL, I saw New Jersey as one of the best teams in the league,” Takacs said. “I thought they were the best team in the East at the time and they have been for a number of years.
“They’ve had very skilled offense, great goaltending and their defense usually covered that up as well. They could have been winning Cups for years, then COVID came.”
After the Titans started this season 2-4, including their worst performance in Blaine in their seven years, general manager and coach Craig Doremus thought the goaltending needed to be strengthened.
“When I got the chance to go to New Jersey, it was literally a blessing for me,” Takacs said.
Takacs went 29-8-0-3 with a 2.42 goals-against average and .918 save percentage this season. He was even stronger while playing every game of the playoffs. He went 9-4 with a 2.15 GAA and .929 save percentage while wrapping up an NAHL career that had taken him from the Maryland Black Bears to the Odessa Jackalopes, Amarillo Bulls and, briefly, the North Iowa Bulls prior to New Jersey.
While Takacs found a home in New Jersey, he was not alone in leading the Titans to the title.
Second-leading scorer Anthony Calafiore came to the team from the United States Hockey League (USHL) at the same time and David Posma, who went on to lead in the NAHL in plus-minus, joined from the USHL soon after. It was Calafiore’s goal with 1:30 left in regulation, with Takacs pulled and the season on the line, that forced overtime in the deciding game of the best-of-three Robertson Cup semifinal.
“We pulled him on the prior faceoff,” Doremus said. “I held him as long as I could. It came down to whether I was going to take a timeout and then yank him.
“There was no timeout, but I yanked him. I just felt we had good puck presence and pressure at that point, so I was confident we were going to possess it and give ourselves a chance.
“The kid we put out there is a heavy, big net-front guy. I figured he could occupy somebody in front and open up some soft ice for one of our smaller guys on one of the wings. It ended up working out almost perfectly.”
The Titans lost the first game of each East Division playoff series but using late-game heroics to force overtimes and break ties, they won both series to reach the Robertson Cup semifinals. The most dramatic of those goals came from Stephen Willey scoring early in the third overtime of the clinching game of the East Division final against the Jamestown Rebels.
In the semifinals, the Titans lost the opener against the New Mexico Ice Wolves, but they won a pair of overtime games on goals by Ryan Coughlin, another in-season acquisition, and Levente Keresztes.
With the title on the line, Brendan Dumas scored the first of two second-period goals. Nick Ring scored after forcing a turnover and getting the puck back from Tommy Banister and Calafiore added a third-period goal on a rebound off a Dumas shot.
“We had a real good game, period,” Doremus said. “I think a lot of the credit will obviously go toward the goaltender in a shutout, but even if you listen to Andrew’s postgame interview, the first thing he does is point out how many blocked shots and how many guys were laying out to do whatever it took.
“I think we did a great job limiting their Grade A scoring chances, especially after the first period.”
Bannister and Dumas were named all-tournament forwards along with Anchorage’s Colton Friesen. Bannister was named Most Valuable Player of the final with five points in four games.
Takacs was named as the goalie on the all-tournament team while Posma and Anchorage’s Campbell Cichosz were the defensemen.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.